February 24, 2018

Beware of the Shark

There used to be a time when the internet was not a winner-take-all mad dash for world dominance. Steven Johnson taught me that.  In the beginning, developers of the foundations of the interwebs created open protocols for the benefit of all, free of charge. Many times under the auspices of the government. That internet still lives on in the guts of what we all experience online nowadays. You just don't realize it, because you pay no licensing fee for the use of the HTTP protocol. No company profits from your use of email protocols POP, SMTP or IMAP, either. They're just there. Built for your benefit by someone who was not tying to hit the next unicorn and become a billionaire (or trillionaire?).

Johnson calls it "InternetOne": the layer of the internet created by distributing its benefits to everyone who cares to join. Cryptocurrencies are an example of it. They distribute the benefits among those participate (through mining) so the network grows.

Capitalism functions the opposite way. It distributes the benefits only to those who put up the money (the capitalist) and enlists the help of Labor in the process in exchange for a wage. Johnson's "InternetTwo" describes internet companies based on the Capitalistic model, which harness the power of the internet's winner-take-all dynamics using the rules of Capitalism.

InternetTwo Companies (Unicorns!)
Since Capitalism doesn't care about ethics, InternetTwo companies have evolved to juice the power of winner-take-all of the internet. Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Netflix and the like make money trafficking on Dopamine, and they've excelled at it. To the point of developing services so addictive their own creators ban them in their houses. Even their founders have realized the extent of the damage they're wreaking by exploiting our psychological vulnerabilities. By manipulating you into checking your smartphone 150 times a day. They buy our attention with extra doses of Dopamine and then sell it to those who want it to feed us propaganda. Shocking. Even I saw it coming.

The Zuck has finally discovered that he's a drug dealer, and that the side effects of the abuse of the drug he peddles are a severe collective weakening of the analytical and critical skills, making billions of people more prone to stupid decisions. Or, as a psychologist would say, more prone to intuitive errors.

Russian sharks are just a consequence of the vulnerability the Zuck and his kin have aroused. They smelled the blood on the waters, but it was Facebook, Twitter and Apple who spilled it. People is starting to realize the damage these companies are doing to society (some even trying to clean themselves), but it will be a slow process to staunch the bleeding. Who knows. Maybe the damage is done and an entire generation has been ruined, but it is clear that we need to wake up to the reality that InternetTwo companies who profit with our psychological vulnerabilities need to be restrained. If not by the government, then by us at the individual level. 

So log off from Facebook. Pick a paper book instead.